The liberation of Mosul, Raqqa and Idlib... but then what?

Christian Chesnot
Christian Chesnot
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Mosul is finally liberated; Raqqa is expected to follow the same path in the coming weeks as well as the Euphrates Valley where the last jihadists of ISIS are being eliminated. The self-proclaimed Caliphate of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is in agony. His plan to create an “Islamic State” straddling between Syria and Iraq will be remembered as a brief moment of bloodshed in history.

As Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan before him, the "Caliph" Baghdadi failed. His chances of survival are very slim. But will this really be the end of ISIS? Certainly not. Recent history preaches caution. Let us remember George W. Bush’s declaration of war. A few days after September 11, 2001, the president of a traumatized America spoke before Congress and the House of Representatives as a sign of sacred union. Bush solemnly announced the beginning of the "war on terror," a war that targets al-Qaeda and will continue, said Bush, “until terrorist groups of global reach have been found, have been stopped, and have been defeated.”

More than 15 years later, not only has al-Qaeda not disappeared despite the death of its leader Osama bin Laden, but ISIS and other movements have taken over. Worse still; the Taliban, driven out of power in 2001, are back on the offensive. Where are the hundreds of billions of dollars supposed to put Afghanistan back on track? We are almost tempted to say: what have we really accomplished?

The terrorist nebula of al-Qaeda and ISIS resembles an octopus or rather the Lernaean Hydra of Greek mythology: a monster with several heads that doubly regenerate once they are sliced.

In Iraq and Syria, there is no doubt that the jihadists will be defeated militarily. But they will go underground and disperse not only in the Middle East, but all over the world. They will remain a threat for a long time, from the Sahel through to Sinai, from Yemen to Asia. All the intelligence services in the world have been warned: cells can strike anywhere, at anytime. A global anti-terrorist hunt is underway.

In Iraq and Syria, there is no doubt that the jihadists will be defeated militarily. But they will go underground and disperse not only in the Middle East, but all over the world.

Christian Chesnot

But the antidote to terrorism cannot be reduced to security. The ingredients of the remedy are also political, economic and social. In Iraq, ISIS has largely developed a Sunni alienation, which found in jihadism its most radical expression. Today, without exaggeration, the responsibility of the Baghdad government is truly historic in the reconstruction of Mosul.

It is not just about restoring buildings and infrastructure. This is probably the easiest, although it will be necessary to mobilize significant funds, particularly from the international community. The most important task will be to reconcile souls and hearts, including better integrating Sunnis into the Iraqi state apparatus and reassuring all religious minorities. After so many tragedies, a strategy of revenge would be worse than evil itself. In this sense, Mosul will be a crucial test. Failure would seriously jeopardize the future of the country.

In Syria, the situation is even more complex. After six years of war, Bashar al-Assad is still firmly attached to power, the moderate opposition is no more than a residue, and the jihadist groups are now cornered on the periphery of Syrian territory. Idlib is now under the control of Tahrir Al-Sham, a coalition of armed groups dominated by Nusra front, the Syrian branch of al Qaida. There is little doubt that the liquidation of the "Idlib pocket" is already programmed by the Russians with the blessing of the United States. But what comes next?

The stabilization of Syria, beyond the de-escalation zones supervised by Moscow, will be as in Iraq, through a great political and social "deal". How to invent a new architecture of power and administration in Damascus? What is certain is that a return to the ante 2011 situation is impossible. Too much blood has been shed, too much misfortune has plagued the country, and too many Syrians have fled their homes.

While the language spoken is that of arms, in what way can one predict that viable and perennial solution could emerge from the chaos? It's probably premature. In any case, it will take years to recollect the pieces of the Syrian human mosaic. But one day or another it will be necessary to recast a new political and social pact acceptable to all the components of Syrian society. Otherwise, with or without Bashar Al-Assad, the terrorist Lernaean Hydra in the shade will not fail to bite again in Syria ... or elsewhere.

Christian Chesnot is grand reporter at Radio France in Paris in charge of the Middle East affairs. He has been based as correspondent in Cairo and Amman. He has written several books on Palestine, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf. Chesnot tweets @cchesnot.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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